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THE FRENCH CONNECTION
David Cage, Michel Ancel and the French game design revolution…
By Will Porter
I loved French games from the moment a laser bolt appeared from off-screen and broadsided the black alien beast pelting after me through Another World. I loved then when I awoke on the planet Twinsun to discover myself incarcerated in an asylum, strait-jacketed by an autocratic regime of bunnies, spheres and elephants in Little Big Adventure. I loved it when a police officer from the city of Omicron reached out through my computer screen and asked me to possess his body as he investigated murders in the oppressive society of The Nomad Soul.
They used to call it ‘the French Touch’, but during my tender gaming years I never truly grasped what that meant – or indeed the common strand that bound these games together. They were all so different, yet they shared an independent mindset and stylistic bravery unparalleled elsewhere in Western gaming. What’s more, that seemingly indefinable seam of brilliant ‘Frenchness’ still echoes through games like Rayman Origins or Nadeo’s lovably bonkers ‘Mania range…
“It’s definitely something to do with the culture, but… I don’t know!” laughs Quantic Dream’s David Cage when my love for his country’s early gaming produce surfaces. “It’s just definitely something to do with being French! They were bold games: they were so interesting, and so early. I feel that my work is just a continuation of that work – I’m just doing it with the technology available to me today. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, but I’m really in the direct line of what those first creators did.”
Just what is it, then, this French Touch? Why was it important, and is it truly still alive today? “I think that we wanted to invent the future,” explains Frédérick Raynal, the creator of both Alone in the Dark and Little Big Adventure as he, stereotypically and brilliantly, stares into a steaming vat of black coffee. “We wanted to make things different. We had freedom.”
Before we get onto Flashback’s jungles, Twinsun’s flights on the Dinofly and perhaps even take in a Cruise for a Corpse – let’s take a trip to 1988 and Captain Blood. The work of a former musician called Philippe Ulrich and the graphical prowess of one Didier Bouchon. Captain Blood was a bizarre, merciless, free-roaming classic. You played a game designer, one Bob Morlock, beamed inside his own game as Captain Blood to hunt down five of his clones – hiding somewhere in the Galaxy. To compound this you’d also have to master Bluddian, a symbol-based language invented specifically for the game, while listening to the synths of Jean-Michel Jarre.
It was a game that sums up the French Touch well – the treatment of alien climes, the sublime graphical work with fractals, a personal slant and a punishing mentality that’d see your cursor shake uncontrollably as your health declined. Like all French Touch games, it was unique.
“To me, at its roots in the mid ‘80s, the French touch was a combination of brilliant aesthetics, boring gameplay and hard as hell difficulty,” counterpoints Jérôme Braune of French indie outfit Blossom Minds. “A couple of years later though, when the game industry was getting bigger, it was almost seen as the counterpart of art house films. It was the opposite to the mass market…”
This is just a small extract from the full feature in Issue Two. To read the entire article, click here to purchase the complete digital edition of Continue for just $2.99/£1.99/€2.25.